Nothing like a hot plate of bhoger khichuri to slip into the Durga Puja mood. Bombay's oldest Durga Puja, the Bombay Durga Bari Samiti, turns 90

Khichuri, labra, chutney, roshogolla payes. Saptami bhog at the Bombay Durga Bari Samiti puja

Today is Shaptami, the first of the four big days of the Durga Pujos.

Can I confess that I was not really feeling the festive cheer till this morning? Just a general sense of ennui.

While I love going to Kolkata as and when I can, I do not really feel the urge to go there during the pujos these days unlike when I was new to Mumbai. Possibly because I feel the adrenaline during the festive days in Kolkata, as well as the crowds, overwhelming and intimidating. Everything in the city is shut during this time, restaurants burst at the seams with people. Pandal hopping does not fascinate me anymore. Travelling within the city is tough.

Perhaps I have grown old. Perhaps I have sunk in my roots in Mumbai. I do have my parar pujo or home puja here too at Bandra Notun Polli. I would rather go to Kolkata when things get back to normal to meet my didu and my family and my favourite, biryani, chop, cutlet, kochuri, rolls.

Bhog (food blessed by the gods and fed to the goddess first)

There was a time when one would feel cut off from the pujos in Mumbai till one stepped into a pujo pandal. Tiny pockets of hyper-active Bengaliness in the Maximum City. That is no longer so, thanks to social media. The moment I would open Facebook or Instagram these days, I would see posts by folks feasting at five star hotels and fine dining places across the country which are hosting Bengali food festivals, or from those doing pop up menus themselves and very few who were putting up pictures from puja pandals in Kolkata. Most of this left me cold. Then something changed this morning.

We had breakfast at La Folie in Bandra, hopped into Cotton World for some last minute notun jama (new clothes) pujo shopping, where miraculously (it is tough for us food lovers) things fitted me for a change. We came home and then off we went to Mumbai's oldest Durga Pujo for bhog/ lunch. 

The Bombay Durga Bari Samiti pujo, colloquially known as the 'Tejpal Park Puja' (after the auditorium where it is held) and suddenly the pujo feeling seeped in.

Beautiful and very traditional protima of the Goddess Durga at the Bombay Durga Bari Samiti

We were welcomed by Jayanta Basu, president of the pujo committee, our neighbour and a friend whom we hold in high regard, the moment we walked in.

With Jaynata da (in cream) and his fellow organisers. I am in notun jama, pant and choti

We walked into the bhog area where I spotted his wife and younger daughter, Anita boudi and Priyanka, along with many other ladies, serving the food. I believe that the happiest people in a puja pandal are those who serve bhog and I am sure that many will agree with me. The men looked after crowd control and ensured the smooth flow of food from the makeshift kitchen to the dining area.

The bhog was rather delicious. I think it is a bit precocious to 'critique' the food which is cooked and served with love and which is said to be blessed by the Goddess, but I am Bengali and part of the joy of enjoying the bhog is dissecting it. So here goes.

What made the food special is that the organisers worked meticulously to make sure that
everyone ate well and that Ma Durga would be proud of them

The balance of salt and chilli heat in the khichuri was perfect. The labda/ labra (slow cooked vegetables) offered a medley of textures in terms of the crunch of peanuts, the bite of the potol (pointed gourd) and snug hugs of the potatoes, the choppy bites of grated coconut, all basking in the aromas of mustard oil which paired with that of the ghee in the khichuri. This was followed by a khejoor (date) redolent tomato chutney and a kishmish (raisin) bejewelled payesh (kheer, milk pudding).

Bhog makes everyone smile

On the way out I sniffed out the kitchen and walked in and was happy to see how clean it was. The look of intense concentration on the faces of the chefs told me what lay behind the great food.

The chefs at the Bombay Durga Bari Samiti

Jayanta da introduced me to Gautam Ghosh, the chef, who had come in from Bongaan, Habra, in North 24 Parganas near Kolkata, to cook the bhog at the Bombay Durga Bari Samiti pujo. Gautam runs a catering outfit and sweetshop through the year there and sings Baul folk songs too and looked like a happy man and as we know, a happy chef leads to happy food.

With chef Gautam Ghosh

I was then introduced to Mr Debnath, the bhog in charge of the committee and a banker with RBI by profession, who told me the story of how he spotted Gautam and got him to Mumbai for the pujos, and about the focus he (Mr D) puts on ensuring hygiene is maintained in the kitchen and that the best quality of ingredients are used, even if some have to be sourced from Kolkata.

Candid click of me taking a selfie with the chefs taken by K. I think that this turned out better than the actual selfie

Mr Debnath told me that one of his motivation Gautam from Habra to Mumbai was to him the to chance to work in a different city, see a bit of the world and thereby grow their skill, confidence and possibly make more money than they could in Kolkata. To me, this is another example of the spirit of giving back to society that the Bombay Durga Bari Samiti is built on as I have learnt from Jayanta da.

Jayantada with the chefs

Do see this video that K shot of me with them and I am sure you will be able to visualise the pujo smile on my face now. Happy pujos folks.

With K. Pic credit Irin Chatterjee

Do Read: Post on my first visit to the Bombay Durga bari Pujo which was in 2016